The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Venerable Bartholomea Capitanio, Venerable Vlncenza Gerosa

Saint Vincentia Gerosadetail from a holy card of Saint Bartholomea Capitanio, artist unknown, date unknownA very sympathetic character is that of Venerable Bartholomea Capitanio, who died on 26 July 1833, when only twenty-six years of age. In her early years she was deeply affected by the life of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga. Reading it over again and again she arrived at the fixed resolve of imitating it as faithfully as possible. She would become like the princely son of Castiglione in his angelic purity, zeal for penance, ardent devotion to the Holy Eucharist, practice of prayer, and self-sacrificing charity toward the neighbor. Both those of her own time and those of later generations bear witness that her endeavors were crowned with brightest success.

Bartholomea’s birthplace, Lovere, at the north end of Lake Iseo in the Brescian Alps, is not far from Castiglione, where stood the ancestral castle of Saint Aloysius. She was born on 14 January 1807, the eldest daughter of Modestus Capitanio, a merchant, and Catharina Canossi, his second wife. The father did not enjoy a good reputation. He was given to drunkenness, and in consequence was very rude and quarrelsome with his wife and children. His religious duties he neglected altogether. But his virtuous daughter, by her prayers and her tactful conduct, succeeded in bringing him to reflection and he sincerely changed for the better. He died a truly Christian death. What the children were unable to learn from the father was supplied by the good example of their mother.

But it was especially an excellent education in the convent of the nuns of Saint Clare at Lovere that excited in Bartholomea a zeal for all that is lofty and ideal. She would have been glad at once to enter the Order of her educators, but she could not obtain the consent of her parents. With the consent of her confessor, however, she made a vow of chastity in her seventeenth year.

When she had completed her studies, with the support of the clergy she opened a private school. Her success was extraordinary. She easily won the hearts of her pupils and showed wonderful ability as a teacher. The Austrian Government, to which Lombardy was subject at the time, freely gave her a teacher’s diploma after a brief examination. What most captivates the heart of a child and penetrates its spirit most deeply are the truths of religion explained and illustrated in a simple and childlike manner. And herein lay the secret of the ability of the young teacher of Lovere. To this contributed the lofty idea she had of her vocation. It was not merely to obtain means of livelihood but to attain her heart’s desire to lead the little ones to their heavenly Friend and to shelter them from misery, both temporal and eternal, that led her to undertake this noble office with so great charity and self-sacrifice. She had the spirit of Aloysius and souls like that of Aloysius she would reproduce in her little school-girls and in all whom her influence might reach.

Bartholomea, under the direction of the clergy of the place, employed herself extensively in the care of the young. A sodality of the Blessed Virgin owes its beginning to her endeavors. She originated the League of Saint Aloysius for the girls of Lovere. Its object was the intimate study of the life of that model of youth, with instruction and direction how best to imitate his virtues in the various circumstances and conditions of life. Special care was devoted to a profitable observance of the six Sundays of Saint Aloysius. Since the membership steadily increased, the foundress divided the association into three sections, according to the age of the members. Other opportune projects for the benefit of young people were begun or promoted by her.

Meanwhile, the religious vocation attracted Bartholomea more strongly as time went on and especially during the retreat of eight days, which she made each year under the guidance of her spiritual director.

There was living in Lovere at this period another holy woman, the Venerable Vincenza Gerosa, who rivaled Bartholomea in the practice of good works. Vincenza was twenty years older than Bartholomea, but they had become close friends chiefly through their work in the sodality of the Blessed Virgin. While Bartholomea achieved great good as a teacher, Vincenza had won the veneration of the whole city as a nurse of the sick. She established a little hospital for the poor. The enterprising and far-seeing Bartholomea formed the plan of founding with Gerosa’s help a religious institute for the instruction of the young and the care of the sick. But some years passed before the paths were smoothed. On the Feast of the Presentation, November 21, 1832, the two foundresses dedicated themselves to God and began a community life. They called themselves Sisters of Charity and placed their enterprise under the protection of Our Saviour, His holy Mother, and Saint Aloysius. It is edifying to read how neither of the two desired to undertake the office of superior. Bartholomea declared it was incumbent on Vincenza as the elder, but the latter urged the superior education of her friend and the fact that Bartholomea was the real author of the plan. Their charity and harmony, however made any disorder impossible.

God is wont to bring great works to their accomplishment in ways unexpected by men. So it was in this case. The whole future of the new institute seemed to depend upon Bartholomea Capitanio. Weakened by her severe labors, she was attacked by an incurable consumption in the spring of 1833. The whole city watched the progress of her illness with greatest anxiety. But, like her patron, Saint Aloysius Bartholomea awaited the end with cheerfulness and joy and within eight months after the beginning of her convent life her task on earth was accomplished.

But it soon became manifest that in heaven she was better able to foster her undertakings than she had been on earth. Sister Gerosa, in spite of her reluctance, was obliged to assume the office of superior. The fame of Bartholomews sanctity brought many of her former pupils and associates to the new Society. It had been originally intended to restrict the work of the Congregation to Lovere; but it was impossible to resist the earnest appeals from other localities. In the development of the foundation the finger of God is everywhere evident. During the lifetime of Mother Gerosa there were established houses at Bergamo, Milan, Venice, Roveredo, and Arco, in the Tyrol, and in various smaller towns of Lombardy. The Congregation received the Papal approbation in 1841. Today it is active not only in Europe, but also in heathen lands, rendering valuable assistance to the priests of the mission seminary of Milan.

The humble and devoted Mother Gerosa governed the Congregation until her death on 29 July 1847, the apostolic process of her beatification was begun in 1900. The decree declaring the heroic degree of the virtues of Bartholomea Capitanio followed in 1902. Both are attractive types of genuine sanctity.

– this text is taken from The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, by Father Constantine Kempf, SJ; translated from the German by Father Francis Breymann, SJ; Impimatur by + Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York, 25 September 1916